With Life Coaching Many Youth Want to Discuss Spirituality

Study Finds Spirituality Is An Important Aspect of Life Coaching Treatment

Spirituality important aspect to life coaching treatment.Regular attendance of religious services has declined with time, according to data from Gallup. Yet many Americans still say spirituality is an important part of their life. Over half (51%) of Americans say religion is “very important” to them, and 89% believe in God.

Spiritual beliefs (religion-specific or personal) can affect mental health. A new study published in Spirituality in Clinical Practice suggests spirituality may be an important aspect of quality treatment. According to the study, most young adults seeking treatment for serious mental health issues think spirituality is relevant to their well-being.

The relationship between mental health and spirituality is complex. It is neither consistently negative nor consistently positive. Clinicians who want to explore spirituality must be prepared to discuss a wide range of experiences and perspectives.

The study used qualitative interviews to gather data on 55 young people aged 18 to 25 years old. Participants had been diagnosed with serious mental health issues such as schizophrenia and bipolar. They had all sought emergency mental health care. Researchers assessed how young adults seeking psychiatric care talked about religion and spirituality.

Thirty-four participants (61.8%) brought up spiritual topics in their interviews with little to no prompting. Many emphasized the important role spirituality played in their mental health. Some recurring themes included:

Positive and negative effects of spirituality on mental health.
Relationship with God.
The role of religion in support systems and emotional wellness.
Many participants emphasized the complex role of spirituality in their lives. Thus, culturally sensitive counseling may be critical to helping youth explore the connection between spirituality and mental health. Some youth may be eager to discuss spiritual concerns, but uncertain about how to begin the conversation. Others may fear they will be judged for their religious conflicts.

Research has long suggested that spiritual beliefs can serve as a protective mechanism. Religious people might even live longer. A 2017 study found people who regularly attended religious services were 55% less likely to die during the 18-year study period (compared to secular peers). A 2016 study of women found similar results. Women who attended services more than once a week were 33% less likely to die during a 16-year period.

This apparent connection between spirituality and longevity may be because religion offers a sense of community and purpose. A 2014 review suggests religion and spirituality can bolster mental health by:

Offering positive coping skills (such as prayer and meditation).
Providing access to a supportive community.
Encouraging positive beliefs, such as the idea that continued self-improvement offers a chance at a better life.
The effect of spirituality on mental health is not universally positive, however. The same study says religion and spirituality may damage mental health by:

Encouraging unhealthy coping tools (such as excessive self-criticism).
Leading to poor communication.
Promoting harmful beliefs, such as the notion that mental health issues are a punishment from God.
Abusive or discriminatory religious beliefs can lead to harmful practices in therapy. Conversion therapy—a discredited form of therapy designed to alter a person’s sexual orientation—often draws on religious beliefs.

Spiritual issues can also play a role in mental health issues. For instance, a person who feels abandoned by God may be more vulnerable to depression. A crisis of faith can be a source of immense anxiety and guilt.

Even people of the same faith may have vastly different views on spirituality and religious experience. Some strategies that can help therapists respectfully and effectively discuss religion include:

Understanding the role that religion and spirituality play in their own life. This can help therapists avoid projecting their own beliefs onto clients.
Treating spirituality as one aspect of a person’s belief system, similar to their views on marriage or politics.
Allowing the client to discuss their values, then working with them to set and achieve goals consistent with those values.
Being cautious about integrating spirituality into treatment. Research is still in its infancy, so clinicians should avoid over-reliance on religious models and lean heavily on research-supported practices.
It is possible to incorporate spirituality into therapy without endorsing a specific religion. Many clinicians use therapeutic techniques with roots in spiritual practice, such as mindfulness and meditation. These strategies can offer people immense comfort.

Religion and spirituality can be very personal, emotional issues. If you are a person seeking therapy (or already in therapy), you may benefit from bringing these topics up in treatment. A skilled therapist can help you address your spirituality without offering judgment.

If you or someone you love is interested in learning more about life coaching, contact my Portland office.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.


Discuss religion, spirituality when treating young adults with severe mental illness. (2018, July 30). EurekAlert. Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-07/bu-drs073018.php
Ducharme, J. (2018, February 15). You asked: Do religious people live longer? Time. Retrieved from http://time.com/5159848/do-religious-people-live-longer
Newport, F. (2016, June 29). Most Americans still believe in God. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/193271/americans-believe-god.aspx
Oxhandler, H. K., Narendorf, S. C., & Moffatt, K. M. (2018). Religion and spirituality among young adults with severe mental illness. Spirituality in Clinical Practice. Retrieved from http://psycnet.apa.org/record/2018-28099-001?doi=1
Religion. (n.d.). Gallup. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/1690/religion.aspx
Weber, S. R., & Pargament, K. I. (2014). The role of religion and spirituality in mental health. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 27(5), 358-363. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25046080

I Love You, I Hate You: Surviving Relationship Churn with Couples Counseling

Couples Counseling May Help Your On-Again, Off-Again Relationship

Businesses have long used the term churn to denote the loss of customers and clients. More recently, psychologists have introduced the concept of relationship churn. In this context, relationship churn refers to unstable on-again, off-again relationships. When couples break up and then reconcile—sometimes many times in a row—this is churn.

Although more prevalent among adolescents and young adults, people of all ages can experience relationship churn. Churning relationships often inspire intense emotions. A person may cycle through intense love, anger, jealousy, grief, and anxiety over the state of the relationship in just a few days.

Relationship churn is a new concept that remains poorly studied, so it is unclear how common these tumultuous relationships are. Most research into the topic has examined relationships among people in their teens, twenties, and thirties, so most data on the topic apply to adolescents and emerging adults. A 2012 study of adolescents and young adults found 44% of participants who had a romantic relationship during the two years prior to the study had at least one breakup followed by a reconciliation. A 2013 study found that more than a third of couples who break up will reunite. The same study found that a fifth of married people experience relationship churn.

Defining relationship churn can prove challenging. One partner might think the couple has reconciled after they have sex, even when the other thinks they are still fighting. Likewise, breakups are not always certain. One partner might think the couple is merely taking time apart even as the other believes the relationship to be permanently over.

The media is filled with depictions of on-again, off-again relationships. Penny and Leonard on The Big Bang Theory broke up only to later reunite and marry. Ross and Rachel on Friends spent much of the series pining away for one another. They remained broken up even after having a child and finally reconciled in the season finale.

Permanently breaking up with a partner can be very difficult. Even when a relationship is irretrievably broken (or even abusive), partners may love one another or experience intense infatuation and attraction.

A 2017 study identified numerous reasons for the cycle of breaking up and getting back together, including:

Believing that problems in the relationship will improve or that the breakup may change a partner’s behavior.
A strong sense of investment in the relationship.
Relationship ambivalence. For example, a person might dislike relationship conflict but feel intense love or trust for their partner.
Uncertainty about the future, which may motivate couples both to break up and to later get back together.
A sense of familial duty. Even if a relationship is unhappy, partners may reunite because of family obligations.
Fear of being alone. Singlehood can be difficult, especially for someone who is accustomed to being in a relationship. For some people, such as those with separation anxiety or anxious attachment styles, being single can be scary. Even if a relationship is unhappy, loneliness can trigger a reconciliation.
Everyone brings their life experiences to their relationships. These experiences color their expectations, their perceptions of what is normal, and their hopes and fears about the relationship. A reunion following a breakup is no different. However, it can be difficult for couples to separate the baggage from their prior relationship from the new relationship.

Research published in 2013 found that ongoing relationship churn makes it progressively more difficult to end the relationship. Couples trapped in a cycle of breaking up and making up report lower relationship satisfaction and greater uncertainty about the future of the relationship. Another 2013 study found that high-churn relationships had higher conflict than stable relationships, including relationships in which couples remained stably broken up.

This doesn’t mean that it is impossible for a relationship to succeed following a breakup. Some people even successfully remarry after an acrimonious divorce and are able to enjoy many years of happy marriage.

To increase the odds of success a second—or third—time around, it’s important to identify what went wrong in the earlier relationship. A therapist may be able to help couples sort through old issues. Treating the new relationship as a fresh start may also help. Bringing up long-resolved emotional wounds, especially as a weapon in fights, can make it difficult to move forward.

Relationships in which there is abuse—including verbal, sexual, physical, or financial abuse—are not safe for either partner. Reuniting without addressing the abuse is a recipe for further abuse, and it may give the abusive partner greater control. Likewise, when a partner is abusive to children, reuniting can be traumatic to the kids and harmful to the entire family. Before considering a reunion, each partner must weigh the effects of the relationship on their physical and emotional wellbeing.

Abuse isn’t the only reason to break up for good. Some signs that a relationship is doomed include:

Continually repeating old patterns. Every couple has a few fights that repeat themselves. But if a couple continues to fight about the same things that caused the earlier break-up, this may indicate the relationship is beyond repair.
Getting back together without discussing relationship problems. Couples who reunite without committing to sustained change tend to repeat the same patterns as before.
Reuniting solely because of loneliness or jealousy. Getting back together without a commitment to ongoing communication and relationship improvements can make the next breakup even more painful.
A couples counselor may be able to help couples assess whether their relationship can be saved and what must happen to save it. Therapy can even ease the breakup process by offering support to each partner and helping couples transition to a different type of relationship. For parents of young children who must continue to co-parent, therapy can be particularly helpful.

Both partners do not have to go to therapy to see improvements. It takes two people to create relationship conflict. Individual therapy can help a person identify their role in the conflict. It may also help a person understand why they keep returning to the relationship. If the relationship ends, the right therapist can help ease feelings of grief, jealousy, or low self-esteem.

Courtesy of GoodTherapy.

If you or someone you love is in a relationship churn, consider couples or individual counseling at my Portland, Oregon office.

How a Counselor Can Help With Loneliness

Negative Self-Talk Is a Sign to Contact a Counselor

Dear GoodTherapy,

My life is a sad state of affairs. I have no real friends to speak of, just my cat Lula. Even she doesn’t like me very much. I can’t work because of a disability. I basically sit at home all day eating myself a little closer to irreversible depression and eventual death.

This is no way to live, but it’s all I’ve got. I used to rationalize that being alone was okay because I’m an introvert, but that’s dumb. Introverts need love and socializing too. I have nothing! I feel so lonely.

I don’t think it’s realistic to expect me to go out and make a bunch of friends. I’m ugly, not very interesting, and I’m not easy to get close to. I don’t let people in. Not sure why, I just never have. So then the question becomes, how do I accept my life for what it is? Is it as simple as no longer judging it as meaningless and empty? Please help me stop feeling so alone.

—Only the Lonely

Dear Lonely,

I hear your very real sadness coming through. Thank you for reaching out. I am actually hearing two different questions in your message—how do I accept my life as it is, and how do I change it to be less lonely?

I recommend you start by finding a therapist in your area. I hear a lot of negative self-talk and negative self-concept in your message. Finding a way to appreciate what you have to offer yourself and the world around you will be an important first step. Your comment about not letting people in—and that you never have—lets me know the work really begins there in understanding what about connecting with others is scary for you.

You also mention not wanting to judge your life as “meaningless and empty.” I agree this is an important goal! Feeling a sense of purpose is essential to long-term well-being. That purpose can be localized or it can be on a broader scale, but feeling that we matter, that we have an impact, that we have a reason for being here is important. You are not alone in struggling to find purpose. Again, working with someone to explore what is meaningful to you will be important.

You are right: introverts need connection too. It is up to you, though, what connection looks like. I have known people who had many friends and were very social and still felt extremely lonely. Meaningful connection with self, with others, and with the world around us can help reduce feelings of loneliness. I encourage you to start that journey by finding someone who can help you work on a meaningful connection to yourself, one in which you feel more accepting of who you are. From there, you can explore how to connect with others.

Best of luck,

Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC

Courtesy of GoodTherapy.

If you or someone you love is having problems with loneliness, please contact my Portland, Oregon office for an appointment.

Coaching Helps Develop Healthy Relationships with Dependent Personalities

Dependent Personality Disorder Can Have Healthy Relationships with Coaching

Dependency on others is the hallmark characteristic of dependent personality disorder (DPD). This can create problems within relationships, since nearly all adult relationships need a degree of interdependence to be considered healthy. Interdependence, simply put, means the people in the relationship maintain their sense of self while working together to meet each other’s needs as well as their own.

If you live with DPD, you may have an intense and overwhelming need for others to take care of you, so much so that you fear being abandoned or left alone. To avoid the possibility of abandonment, you might find yourself going out of your way to make certain you have the continued support of your romantic partner, family members, or friends. This might cause you to go to great lengths to please them, often by doing things you’d prefer not to do.

This behavior may seem to help you get your needs met, but it often leads to unhealthy or imbalanced relationships. You might end up staying with a partner who isn’t right for you, or even one who’s toxic or takes advantage of you, simply because you don’t want to be alone.

Relationship coaching for Dependent Personality.But it is possible to build healthy relationships when you have DPD. Awareness of the condition, and how it affects your interactions with others, is a good first step.

If you live with DPD, you may have an intense and overwhelming need for others to take care of you, so much so that you fear being abandoned or left alone.

In basic terms, dependent personality means you rely on other people to take care of you. You might experience serious distress at the thought of having to do things on your own, because you don’t think you can care for yourself. You might feel helpless or unable to make decisions for yourself—both significant decisions, like the career you choose, and minor decisions, like what you’ll make for dinner.

You might lack well-developed self-esteem and have little confidence in your own abilities. This can contribute to beliefs like, “I can’t do anything myself,” “Someone else can do a better job,” or “If I upset them, they’ll leave me.” Because you need continued support from loved ones, you may withhold normal, healthy responses, like anger, frustration, or disagreement, even if they do something problematic or upsetting.

This condition is diagnosed in adulthood, and only in people who do have the ability to make decisions on their own without excessively depending on others. People sometimes experience dependency as a result of a health condition or other mental health condition, and this isn’t quite the same as DPD. It’s also important to note that people in abusive relationships may display traits that seem similar to those associated with DPD, such as extreme submissiveness or fear of disagreeing with the abuser. If these behaviors only happen in the abusive situation, DPD wouldn’t be diagnosed.

It’s important to understand these characteristics aren’t your fault. Personality disorders are complicated issues that develop from a multitude of factors, and it’s not always easy to recognize there’s something problematic about your behavior. These traits are ingrained—a part of your personality—and they can be difficult to change. But change is possible.

There’s nothing wrong with consulting your romantic partner about decisions you make, especially those affecting you both. In fact, this is pretty normal (and beneficial) in a healthy relationship. What sets this type of dependency apart from DPD? In a healthy relationship, you don’t wholly depend on your partner. You ask their advice, consider it, then make a decision that works for both of you.

If you have DPD, it may seem natural to turn to your partner for help with decisions, since you may feel incapable of doing anything alone. You might ask them to choose what stores you shop at, what kind of clothing you buy, what you do with your free time, and whether you should go for a promotion. You might harbor your own opinions about these choices, your partner’s behavior, or other issues that pop up in daily life. But because you worry expressing your true feelings will lead to disapproval and withdrawn support from the people who take care of you, you don’t say what you truly feel. This can eventually diminish your sense of self.

If these behaviors resonate with you, it can help to practice making your own decisions in your relationship. A caring partner can support you by:

Stepping back to let you make your own decisions
Encouraging you to take responsibility for household matters
Encouraging you to express your true opinions
Many people with DPD end up in relationships with people who take advantage of them. A few signs of abuse include:

Threatening to withdraw emotional or financial support
Belittling or attempting to control you
Insisting on sexual acts you aren’t comfortable with as a condition of support
A therapist can offer guidance and support if your relationship is abusive.

Having dependent personality means you may not trust yourself to make your own decisions. You believe you can’t function without the help of others. This can contribute to the distorted view that your child is more capable of making decisions for you.

Accordingly, parents living with DPD may overly rely on children to handle tasks or decisions children aren’t emotionally capable of making. This may be more common in situations where you’re a single parent living with DPD and don’t have another person to rely on.

It’s normal for children to have opinions on things like meal planning, where to purchase their clothing, or how to spend free evenings. And children, especially older children, should also contribute around the house and help manage their own schedules and responsibilities. But it’s not healthy for parents to ask children to take care of all household tasks and responsibilities or make decisions about adult responsibilities or social situations.

As a parent, you may have interest in what your child thinks of your romantic partner. But there’s a difference between asking, “What do you think about (Partner’s name)?” and “Should I keep dating (Name) or should we break up?”

DPD can make workplace interactions challenging, if you struggle to get necessary tasks done on your own. Your coworkers may notice your difficulty with self-starting, and some might consider your continued need for prompting and encouragement troublesome.

Presenting yourself as incapable or needing regular support and assistance to do your work can create challenges, even conflict, in the workplace. If you’re left to work alone, you might believe you can’t complete the task or project successfully and end up not doing it at all. However, you might do fairly well when you have supervision or support from someone else.

If you have DPD, you may notice your friendships follow a pattern similar to your romantic relationships. Your fear of being left alone can play out in ways that make you seem clingy and needy. You may worry disagreeing with friends will result in them no longer caring for you and avoid expressing personal opinions and desires to ensure their continued support.

You might also readily volunteer to help friends out, even when you’d rather not do something (like help them move or clean their house). Because you want them to continue to be there for you, you sacrifice your time, but less-than-ethical friends may take advantage of this trait.

Good friends should be there for each other and support each other in times of need, but true friends should also encourage you and support you in doing things for yourself.

It’s very difficult to address personality disorders without help from a therapist trained to recognize symptoms and help you work through them effectively. But therapy can always have benefit. Personality disorders can’t be cured, but therapy can help you address behaviors causing problems in your life and learn new ways of relating to others.

Dependent personality treatment can be incredibly beneficial, since it can lead to more fulfilling, healthy relationships. A trained therapist can support you as you work to realize your own capabilities, both when it comes to making decisions and taking care of yourself. Since people with DPD can sometimes transfer feelings of dependency to their therapist, it’s important to work with a therapist experienced in helping people with DPD.

In therapy, you might:

Practice self-sufficiency and assertiveness skills
Learn to cope with fears of being alone
Practice decision-making
Become comfortable spending time on your own
Learn to express disagreement in productive ways
DPD can often occur with other conditions. Childhood illness, attachment issues, or separation anxiety sometimes play a part in its development. But DPD can also factor into the development of concerns like social anxiety or depression. Therapy can help you address symptoms of these conditions, as well.

Healthy relationships should be fairly balanced. Some of the time, you might need more support from your partner than usual, and at other times, they may need more from you. But typically, it’s unhealthy for one person to rely solely on another.

If you or someone you love has questions about dependent personality disorder, contact my Portland area office to learn more about relationship coaching.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, fifth edition. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.
Blair, O. (2018, October 23). Dating someone with dependent personality disorder: Balancing support and self-care. Retrieved from https://www.bridgestorecovery.com/blog/dating-someone-with-dependent-personality-disorder-balancing-support-and-self-care
Dependent personality disorder. (2007). Harvard Mental Health Letter. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Dependent_personality_disorder
Dependent personality disorder. (2017, March 30). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9783-dependent-personality-disorder
Maccafferi, G. E., Dunker-Scheuiner, D., De Roten, Y., Despland, J. N., Sachse, R., & Kramer, U. (2019, October 15). Psychotherapy of dependent personality disorder: The relationship of patient-therapist interactions to outcome. Psychiatry. doi: 10.1080/00332747.2019.1675376

LGBT Counseling Can Help Men With Loneliness

Why Do So Many Men Feel Lonely? Counseling Can Help

Most people crave social connection. While social media, endless apps, and new technology promises to connect more people, many people feel lonelier than ever. While isolation can be a trigger for loneliness, loneliness and isolation are not identical. A person can feel lonely even when surrounded by others, especially if they don’t have deep connections that feel meaningful to them.

Loneliness doesn’t just feel bad. It can have profound implications for health. Some research even suggests that chronic loneliness can be as harmful to a person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.Why men are so lonely and how LGBT counseling can help.

Research on gender differences in loneliness is mixed. Some studies show that women are lonelier than men; others show the reverse. Most researchers, however, agree that single men tend to be especially lonely, and that certain social norms governing masculinity may increase the risk of loneliness in men. Some early research on loneliness also suggests men may be less likely than women to admit to feelings of loneliness.

Studies consistently find that women are more likely to have dense social networks than men. From childhood, women are socialized to value friendship, confide in their friends, and to foster deep intimacy with close friends. Even when men have many friends, they may feel uncomfortable sharing emotions or airing feelings of vulnerability.

A 2018 analysis of people living in rural regions found that 63 percent of men felt comfortable opening up to friends, compared to 74 percent of women. Women were also more likely to participate in activities, such as church gatherings, that foster friendship and a sense of community.

Although social isolation is a serious concern among single men, research suggests that emotional feelings of loneliness are even more important. A 2011 study tied social isolation to reduced life satisfaction, but the link was even stronger for emotional loneliness. Researchers also found that male university students were significantly more likely to report emotional feelings of loneliness than female students.

Masculine social norms teach men that vulnerability is weakness. Homophobia is also prevalent. Straight cisgender men may fear being labeled “gay.” These two forces can make it very difficult for men to reach out to others in friendship. Even when men have friends, they may fear judgment if they display weakness or ask for help.

Heterosexual male friendships often feature a boastful sort of masculinity, in which men brag about their sexual prowess, their financial success, or their independence. This culture can make it hard for men struggling in their relationships to share their challenges. It also shows men that the ideal man is one who uses others—not one who invests deeply in interdependent relationships.

This isolation can be a self-replicating intergenerational cycle. Men may discourage sons from showing weakness or emotion. Boys also witness their fathers modeling stoic behavior and may mimic it. In this way, the stigma of emotionally connecting to other men passes from one generation to the next.

Men in most studies are more likely than women to have long-term partners. These partners can ease some loneliness. Indeed, many men rely on their partners as a primary or sole source of emotional support. This increases men’s vulnerability to loneliness when relationships end or partners die. A 2017 survey found women are more comfortable being single than men. Sixty-one percent of single women in the UK reported being happy, compared to just 49% of single men.

In addition to supporting their male partners, women in long-term heterosexual relationships may help them socialize by building and fostering social networks. Emotional labor like remembering birthdays, sending holiday cards, planning family get-togethers, and scheduling outings with friends has traditionally fallen to women. When a man loses his partner, he may lose an important social lubricant. That may mean losing friends and social opportunities.

Building friendships with other men can be challenging, especially when a man is no longer in school. A few strategies may help:

Join communities and organizations that foster intimacy. Churches, volunteer organizations, and support groups may offer groups specifically for men looking for closer relationships.
Seek friendships with men who value alternative forms of masculinity and who are willing to talk about the need for human connection.
Consider working to turn acquaintances into friends. Invite a social media friend who speaks out against toxic masculinity or male loneliness to an outing.
Take a more active role in family efforts to grow relationships. Don’t rely on women to plan all social outings or reach out to others.
Try starting a new group or organization. Ask other dads to meet up once a month or invite acquaintances from church to start a group for men who want to grow meaningful relationships.
Identify any harmful beliefs you have about friendship or masculinity. Do you believe that crying indicates weakness or that real men don’t need others? Work to understand where these beliefs come from and actively correct them.
Practice conversations with other men ahead of time. Think about questions to ask them about their lives or opinions. Consider what you hope to share about yourself.
Don’t rely on social media as a sole or primary source of socialization. While social media can bring people together, it also relies heavily on brief interactions rather than the sustained, meaningful connection that grows lasting friendship.
Model vulnerability to other men and boys. Men who see that strong men can be vulnerable may feel more comfortable being vulnerable themselves. Sons who see their fathers invest in friendships may be less reticent to do so themselves.
Counseling can help many men practice and master new social skills. Men may also benefit from counseling when social anxiety impedes relationships or when loneliness is so severe that it leads to depression.

If you or someone you love is having difficulty with loneliness, contact my Irvington office to make a counseling appointment.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.


Henning-Smith, C., Ecklund, A., Moscovice, I., & Kozhimannil, K. (2018). Gender differences in social isolation and social support among rural residents [Ebook]. University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Center. Retrieved from http://rhrc.umn.edu/wp-content/files_mf/1532458325UMNpolicybriefsocialisolationgenderdifferences.pdf
Neville, S., Adams, J., Montayre, J., Larmer, P., Garrett, N., Stephens, C., & Alpass, F. (2018). Loneliness in men 60 years and over: the association with purpose in life. American Journal of Men’s Health, 12(4), 730-739. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6131432
Salimi, A. (2011). Social-emotional loneliness and life satisfaction. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 29, 292-295. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042811027029
Sex differences in loneliness: the role of masculinity and femininity. (1998). Sex Roles, 38(7-8). Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023%2FA%3A1018850711372#page-2
Yarrow, A. (2017). All the single ladies: 61% of women in the UK are happy to be single, compared to 49% of men. Retrieved from https://www.mintel.com/press-centre/social-and-lifestyle/all-the-single-ladies-61-of-women-in-the-uk-are-happy-to-be-single-compared-to-49-of-men

Relationships Help Mental Health In Couples Counseling

Can Romantic Relationships Improve Mental Health in LGBTQ+ Youth?

Romantic relationships can have a big impact on LGBTQ+ youth. In a study published in Abnormal Psychology, relationships protected homosexual youth from the emotional distress of bullying and stigma. Bonds with parents and peers didn’t have the same protective effect. This suggests closeted homosexual youth may not be getting the full emotional support they need.

Romantic Relationships Help Mental HealthMeanwhile, romantic relationships were associated with higher stress levels in bisexual youth. This trend may have been due to unique stressors in the bisexual population.

The study recruited participants from Project Q2, the longest ever longitudinal study of LGBTQ+ youth. The project involves a racially diverse group of 248 Chicago youth between the ages of 16-20. Most participants identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

In the study, gay and lesbian youth displayed less distress when they were in a relationship. Romantic relationships also buffered the stress of victimization and bullying. Bonds with friends and family did not provide the same benefits.

The study’s authors suggest these young people may rely on their partners for support they often cannot find elsewhere. A 2014 study in the Journal of Adolescence reached a similar conclusion. In that study, youth attracted to individuals of the same gender experienced stress from anticipating societal rejection. Romantic relationships helped improve their emotional well-being.

The study’s authors say their research points to the value of helping young people find romantic relationships. Outreach programs such as “queer proms” may offer more than a fun evening. They can also help young people develop dating skills and find partners. The resulting romance could lead to improvements in mental health by helping offset the effects of discrimination.

One exception to these findings was in regard to bisexual youth. Bisexual people in relationships were 19% more distressed than their single peers. This may be due to unique stereotypes bisexual individuals face. The study’s authors mention previous research in which romantic partners “expected” bisexual women to engage in threesomes (likely due to the myth that bisexual people are inherently polyamorous.).

There is also the matter of bisexual erasure. Bisexual individuals are often told their sexuality is “just a phase.” When a bisexual person enters a relationship, others may claim the person was really straight or gay all along, depending on their partner’s gender. This invalidation can have serious effects on a bisexual person’s emotional health.

(Note: These results are not meant to imply that romantic relationships are bad for bisexual individuals. They merely show how bisexual people are more likely to experience distress in relationships due to stigma.)

Baams, L., Bos, H. M., & Jonas, K. J. (2014). How a romantic relationship can protect same-sex attracted youth and young adults from the impact of expected rejection. Journal of Adolescence, 37(8), 1293-1302. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2014.09.006
Celebrate bisexuality! GLAAD dispels common myths and stereotypes. (2011, September 23). GLAAD.
Romantic relationships buffer gay and lesbian youth from emotional distress. (2018, February 16). EurekAlert.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

The Role Joy Plays In Our Emotional & Mental Health

Counseling Flow of Joy

Since it’s the season to bring “joy to the world,” I thought this might be an appropriate occasion to ask you to consider what brings joy to you. Somebody asked me this question recently, and I had to think for a few minutes.

I’d somehow forgotten that joy is something that’s not only important in terms of how we experience life, but it’s also a vital quality in terms of how we measure healthy emotional and mental well-being. I’m a therapist and I’d somehow forgotten that…hmm. I guess I’ve been too busy focusing on other people’s lives and haven’t stopped long enough to consider this important aspect of my life.

Counseling flow to increase joy.And so, do I actually experience joy in my life? Not the kind like “Hey, this is a great dinner,” but instead the kind where I can look back on special times and smile at the memories? The answer is “Yes,” and typically children and animals are part of my personal joy “quotient,” since both cause me to laugh and be silly in ways that I’m normally not during the everyday logistics of my life.

They also require that I stay in the present whereas, under other circumstances, I can sometimes get lost in the fog of the future, where life usually seems more complicated, and even more fearful, than it usually ever is. Children and animals teach me the importance of remaining “in the now,” and if they happen to not be available, then meditation almost always helps in that regard, albeit not in the same light-hearted, comedic, and spontaneous way, at least so far!

During moments of joy, I can almost feel the positive neurotransmitters, like serotonin, racing through my brain as they uplift me and allow me to escape from any stress or pressure that I might otherwise be feeling. But I realize there’s always room for more joy, so my task is to discover how I can create it for myself.

My job as a psychotherapist often involves helping clients discover ways of creating the lives they want for themselves, and I’ve often suggested that they identify activities that involve something we, as therapists, refer to as “flow.” The idea of “flow” is that we become so engaged in the activity that we have no connection to the temporal aspect of our day; in fact, time literally seems to stop when we’re engaged in this activity we love so much. It’s when life can be bustling all around us, yet we aren’t in the least connected to it, because we’re off in the space of “flow.”

It’s like taking a mental “time-out,” and the kind that pays untold dividends for us, but also for those who are closely involved in our lives. And, by the way, I’m not referring to an addiction to technology or any other such activity that has a negative impact on our lives, either personally or relationally.

Rather, it’s an involvement with something we feel is expanding us while at the same time, it increases feelings of satisfaction and personal reward within the depth of us. It results in a completely positive, and even joyful, experience.

Why is “flow” so important? Or joy? Well, because these experiences allow us to separate from the more stressful or frustrating aspects of daily life, no matter what phase of life you might be in. In fact, it’s during the most stressful and frustrating times of life when you’ll need to identify ways to offer yourself experiences of “flow” or joy that you’re lacking so much.

But typically, these are the times we’re somehow wired to suffer through whatever’s going on until it’s over before we begin to take care of ourselves in ways that will actually do the trick. By then, however, it may take considerably longer to recover from the impacts the stress has had on our lives because we weren’t paying enough attention to the inevitable internal scream for a “time-out.” Consequently, we usually discover that the damage of not listening to that scream resulted in even more stress. And so the cycle continues.

I’m not a believer in New Year’s resolutions – at all. In fact, I’m convinced that making them is more often than not a recipe for feeling terrible about oneself, mainly because we usually lack the commitment to maintain them for any serious length of time. Instead, I’d encourage you to begin thinking about the different ways that you might bring flow – or even more flow if you’re already engaged in an activity that results in it – into your life.

Flow often begets joy – in fact, it’s often through our experiences of flow that we ultimately discover joy. So, I’d like you to consider the importance of this for you, for your relationships, and ultimately for your emotional and mental health.

And rather than viewing this “search” for flow as optional, begin seeing it as something that’s as vital as the food, the rest, and the exercise you offer your body so it can operate at a much higher emotional and spiritual level than it has previously.

Make this a commitment to yourself, and not a resolution. Both are very different from one another; one is a form of self-love, and the other is a form of self-hate, or at the very least an obligation to attend to…until we decide we won’t, a decision that’s usually made by mid-February.

I wish you well in your (re)search, and take a moment to share with me what you discover. I’d love to hear about the path you’re paving towards your own experience of joy.

Courtesy of Therapy Tribe.

Counseling Homework Isn’t as Effective As You Think

‘Show Your Work’: Counseling in the Here and Now

Every now and then, someone asks me for homework as we end a therapy session. There’s nothing strange about this request. There are therapies where homework is a big part of the overall work. And because most of us have been getting homework since we were in school, we’ve been conditioned to see it as an inevitable part of learning and bettering ourselves.

Homework isn't effective for LGBT counseling Irvington.There are times I recommend that a person in therapy try something out on their own, but I generally don’t give homework. I have found that the most healing, most helpful, and longest-lasting effects of therapy are produced in the therapy room.

In my previous career as an actor and singer, I spent a good deal of time in classes working on the performance of a monologue or song. It was important to me to be “performance ready” all the time. My self-esteem was built around this—after all, at 18 I felt the only thing I was good at was performing. If I didn’t do this perfectly, then who was I?

I’d sing my ballad, play my part … and after I was done, there were always comments from classmates and the teacher. Caring critiques. This was expected. And it was usually wanted, at least by me.

I dealt with this by saying thank you, dutifully writing it all down in my notebook—and then incorporating everything later on while I was in the practice studios or my dorm room.

After a while, this did not fly with my teacher and director. She wanted to see me incorporate the notes on the spot—to “show my work,” as they say. I didn’t want to. That would get in the way of my perfectionism.

Still, I learned to do it. It was scary. I felt exposed and vulnerable. But it was amazingly helpful because I learned to do the work in relationship with someone else. There was real-time, moment-to-moment exploration of what I preferred to more comfortably work on by myself.

This was a powerful lesson. Today, I extend it to the work we do in counseling.

As I said, I’ll occasionally encourage people to journal, make a gratitude list, or become more aware of the physical signs they’re getting upset, but it’s not a large part of the work—and in my view, it’s not the most effective part, either.

When we take the pressure off of you, the person going to therapy, we allow for the emotions that exist within relationships—including the therapeutic relationship and your relationship with yourself—to come to the forefront. Therapy is not coaching. Therapy is not something you’re supposed to do on your own.

It’s about relationships.

Therapy is about learning to trust that the work you do in session will enter your life when it is needed. The work you put into your relationship with a therapist sees its real fruition in the relationships with your friends, children, partner, parents, and coworkers. Your people.

It’s not a straight line from we learn this, we incorporate this, and the outcome is this.

We may want it to be. I do (all the time), but I’ve come to see and strongly believe that’s just not how change—real, lasting change—happens. When the change I want is to move out of constant anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, etc., I need to trust that I can’t just think myself out of it.

It’s not about finding new ways to approach a situation with a new script. That can be part of the journey, maybe even an entrance, but it’s not the whole story.

The courage that comes with exposing your uncensored feelings with a therapist provides you with the freedom to be who you are with the people who matter most in your life.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

Three Principles For Loving On Purpose

Characteristics of a Good Relationship

Hey, welcome back! The last post I started a conversation about conscious loving on purpose. I told you that there were three things you needed to know to be successful in a committed relationship or marriage.

3 Characteristics for Couples Therapy PortlandIn case you missed it or just forgot, first you have to learn the basic principles of successful relationships. You also have to consciously practice until those principles become habits. That’s a key thing you’re going to be hearing from me in this space. Conscious, on-purpose practice or action is the key to a powerful, empowered life, whether you’re in a relationship or single. So remember this! Finally I said that you will need to experiment and innovate using some of those principles you’ve learned and practiced. In other words you’ve got to put some funk in your style! Your love relationship should be like a jazz, R & B, hip hop or gospel set.

The best Soul musicians always know the basics of the music they are playing, but once they get the basics down they feel free to innovate. That’s where the funk is in the creative innovation as they allow themselves to play off of the other people in the group. Wow, wouldn’t it be fun if you could riff and funk and create with your love partner like that? Well hold on, we’re going to give you some good stuff to make that possible right here, so keep coming back.

Back to Principles
In this post I want to share the principles that will help your relationship work right. We’re starting with the stuff you can do to make it good. We’ll come back later to share with you the things you might be doing to mess stuff up, but we’ll begin with what works. I’m betting that a lot of this will be familiar to you, even if you don’t think your relationship is going well. Even a broke clock is right twice a day right? I’m certain that even if things don’t seem to be going right today, there have been some days when you got it right. One of the things you have to get good at is learning how to notice what’s good and nurture it with each other. In other words you have to start remembering the good times on purpose. We’ll come back to that later.

Your Love Should Not Be an Accident!
I focused last time on the idea that a lot of folks approach relationships like a bad accident. We even call it “falling in love”, ouch! Then most folk after falling in love, wander around blindly trying to figure out how to make it work. The really good thing is that over the past fifty years or so, there have been real efforts to research, study and understand what makes intimate relationships work and what makes them fail. The overwhelming evidence points to the fact that relationships succeed or fail based on the practical things people do. The other thing that I can say with a little bit of confidence is that relationships today in the twenty-first century can not succeed using the expectations and ways of being in relationship that our great grand parents, our grand parents or even our parents had in the twentieth century!

Marriage Ain’t What it Used to Be
Let’s be honest, even as few as fifty years ago most marriages were based on a principal of commodity exchange and unequal gender balances where most women were told to perfect her cleaning, cooking and child care and seduction skills in the hope of finding a man who would take care of her, bring home the income, and be her representative in the public world. In exchange she agreed to be obedient, submissive and make sure that his home was well kept and he and the children were nurtured and healthy. It was an exchange based in built in and assumed inequality guaranteeing men the privilege of being real heads of the household, unchallenged. If a woman wanted the social protection and access without conflict to the social sphere it was important that she played the commodity exchange game. This was a game that was pretty much rigged and set for the benefit of men.

Look for Your Friend
Well that was then, but now, because women have legal access to the education, skill training income possibilities and social capital that used to belong to men, it’s a different game. Built-in inequality no longer guarantees men access to unlimited choices of women. Though it’s painful to hear for some men, women no longer need men for social survival. That means that twenty-first century relationships have to be built and maintained on a different principle. The research shows that the most successful relationships today are based not on unequal commodity exchange but on egalitarian friendships. That’s right, your best chance of having a good stable and happy marriage today is to make sure your partner is your friend!

Three Characteristics of a Good Relationship
Now I know some of you out there are slapping yourself up-side the head and giving me a big “Duh” because for you I’m stating the obvious, but I’m telling you, you’d be surprised at how many couples forget to be friends after the first year or so of a relationship. They just sort of let things run along on automatic pilot trusting in the magic of falling in love. In my practice I teach couples that good relationships often have three characteristics that reflect that you and your partner are be-friending each other. And just in case you haven’t got the point yet, successful couples are always, consciously befriending each other. So what are these characteristics of a good befriending relationship?

  1. Multi-Level Intimacy
    First relationships that work well usually have multi-level intimacy. I’m not talking about just sex here, though that’s really important (and we’ll talk about that on another posting) but intimacy is that thing that insures good sex long before you get to the main event. Couples who do well share physical intimacy like caresses, holding hands and hugs and kisses throughout their day. These couples share mental / intellectual intimacy by having ongoing conversations and check-ins to keep up with each others lives. Remember when you first got together, and you talked about everything all the time! Well couples who have good relationships keep doing that on purpose even years into the relationship. Finally couples who practice multi-level intimacy share emotional intimacy together. That means they allow themselves to be vulnerable and to share their inner lives, emotions and thoughts with each other. They are emotional risk takers with each other in an attempt to know and be known (yeah, that’s a hard one but it’s worth it).
  2. Reciprocity
    The second characteristic of couples who have good relationships is that they practice reciprocity with each other. There is a give and take in the relationship and sharing of responsibility. They also compromise and make sure that each partner feels valued and valuable in the relationship. When they have problems to solve they make sure that both their voices are heard and respected and decisions are based on knowledge, experience and the context of the moment for that issue and not on predestined privilege based on gender, age or some other intangible root of authority. Now I know that’s going to be a hard one for some of you out there, especially some of the brothers, but we can revisit this idea later.
  3. Mutual Meaning and Purpose
    Finally, couples who do well together and find success in their relationship, work on a mutual sense of meaning and purpose . These couples share the experience of going in the same direction. They have a sense of US-ness between them. Now this does not happen overnight. In fact it takes time and patience before you can get there. I mean it’s not easy bringing all of your own family stuff to this new relationship and deciding what practices and meanings and rituals you keep and which ones you can give up and which ones of your partners you decide to share in and then which new practices, meanings, and rituals you create together. It takes patience, compromise, physical, emotional, and intellectual intimacy, reciprocity and more to build that protective wall around your relationship that sets the boundary defining the Us in Y’all as we say down here in the South.
    These three characteristics of couples who are doing well and consciously loving each other on purpose are just a few of the principles I hope you will be open to learning as we continue sharing in this forum. If you’ve got questions or comments or if you have a topic related to relationships or mental health that you’d like to see me write about leave me a message and I’ll be happy to follow up with you. Until the next time, remember to keep loving each other on purpose!

Courtesy of Therapy Tribe

How Can Therapy Address Depression Associated with Chronic Illness?

Ways Therapy Can Help You or Someone You Love With Chronic Illness

People who have chronic illness are more likely to develop depression. People with depression are more likely to develop chronic illness. But did you know that depression is treatable even with chronic illness?

A chronic illness is loosely defined as:

  • A condition that lasts 3 months or longer
  • Is not preventable by vaccination
  • Has no existing cure

Portland life coaching for individuals with chronic illness.Some of the most common chronic illnesses (diseases) include heart disease, stroke, and chronic pain. It is estimated that over 100 million Americans are living with at least one chronic illness, and most are living with at least two illnesses. Many chronic illnesses are not diagnosed correctly or right away. It can be incredibly taxing emotionally to know something is not right with you physically, and yet, not to be able to get a diagnosis and treatment.

Once diagnosed, additional problems can arise. Typically, treatment most often focuses on the physical part of the disease; meanwhile, the emotional aspects may not be given appropriate attention. In the beginning and throughout the course of a chronic illness, it may be hard for you to define how you are feeling.

A chronic illness diagnosis can lead to a feeling of loss of sense of self. You may be told to cut back on or eliminate certain activities. Changes in diet and exercise might be necessary. Surgery could be mentioned, and maybe you’ve never had surgery. Many things can change once you are diagnosed.

But you look the same. Most chronic illnesses are invisible, and this can make it more difficult for you to feel as if you are being understood. It can be confusing, as well. What you see in the mirror is not always a correct representation of how you feel on the inside.

If it is difficult for you to process, you can guarantee it is difficult for many others. Feeling as though you have to explain your symptoms to others can be exhausting. It takes a lot of energy to function daily with chronic illness, and those who don’t have a chronic illness can have a hard time understanding this. It may feel like you are constantly having to defend yourself.

Emotionally, you may wonder if you will ever feel like your old self again. You may worry loved ones won’t understand. You may have to change some of your habits, decrease responsibilities at work and home, and your social life may take a hit. Some changes may be relatively easy to implement, and others may prove to be more difficult. Depression can develop as a result of having to make life-altering changes, even when making these changes will increase your chances of surviving your illness.

If you have been living with chronic illness for a while, depression may develop for a variety of reasons. You may feel as though you can’t participate in life as fully as your peers. You may find it difficult to date or to conceive children because of your illness. You may feel like your friends, family, or spouse/partner are tired of hearing about your symptoms. Long term management of chronic illness can cause feelings of isolation and lead to depression.

If you have been living with depression, you may find it hard to maintain good physical health. It can be difficult to eat well, exercise, and get the right amount of sleep when you are depressed. Some of the medications prescribed for depression have side effects that impact physical health such as weight gain and an increase in cholesterol. Not maintaining good physical health could also increase the chances that a chronic illness may develop. Depression may cause you to delay seeking treatment for a chronic illness.

Therapy can play an important role in managing chronic illness and treating depression, offering hope and a place of healing. Therapy can:

  • Help you explore your feelings about chronic illness and depression.
  • Allow you to develop coping skills to manage the emotional and physical aspects of chronic illness.
  • Teach you about how your thoughts affect your emotions and behavior.
  • Help you uncover underlying beliefs about chronic illness and depression, allowing you to develop new beliefs and thoughts about your illness.
  • Support you in learning how to advocate for yourself.

By improving the ways in which you think about your illness, you may improve the physical aspects as well. Therapy can help you manage chronic pain in part by helping decrease stress, which is a contributing factor to heart disease and stroke. In general, therapy can help you find your lost sense of self, handle overwhelming feelings, and improve your confidence when it comes to managing day-to-day struggles with chronic illness.

Finally, it can be even more beneficial to find a therapist who specializes in the treatment of individuals with chronic illness. It is likely these therapists have a personal or deeper understanding of what it is like to live with chronic illness. If you or someone you know is interested in learning more on how therapy can help individuals with chronic illness, make an appointment at my Portland area office.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.